Everything You Need To Know About Boxed Wine

Boxed wine — or bag-in-box (BIB) per industry terms — has historically been dismissed by people looking to purchase quality wine. Its less-than-desirable reputation stems from a number of factors, not aided by shoddy versions and the image it conveys. A cardboard box fitted with a spigot and filled with a bag of wine hardly screams connoisseur. However, rejecting it for not being a smooth glass bottle isn't giving boxed wine the chance it deserves.

With the industry facing shortages of packaging materials due to a multitude of causes, including issues with the supply chain, transport, and increasing costs (per Forbes), there's no way around it; wine bottles need to be reconsidered. Sustainability is only one reason why more producers are turning to bag-in-box wine, and consumers need to take note if they want to keep up. Though it's hard to argue that a box of wine looks sleeker in your cellar than a bottle, it doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing approach.

We'll examine everything you need to know about boxed wine in order to allow you to make an educated decision the next time you're in the wine shop.

You can thank Australia for its invention

Important wine milestones often come from Europe, but boxed wine is an Australian creation. Wine Enthusiast deems it "Australia's greatest invention," which is a testament to its significance (albeit a bold statement, considering the country is credited with many noteworthy discoveries, including the development of WiFi and Google Maps, per Australian Geographic). Regardless, boxed wine is proving to be invaluable in the wine world.

Down under, the nifty contraption is colloquially known as a goon, a name that could benefit from some marketing efforts to sway the unconvinced. In 1965, winemaker Thomas Angove invented the device while searching for a way to bottle larger quantities of wine. Prior to boxed wine, local wine consumption was low, but sales swiftly increased following the creation of the convenient format. So much so that it inspired a drinking game regionally known as Goon of Fortune.

Angove's son John shares with The Advertiser that his father saw the benefits of the tight seal plastic bags could provide, as well as their low risk of breaking. The fact that wine could be poured with zero oxygen entering the vessel (a notion referred to as airless flow) was at the heart of Angove's motivation to produce boxed wine.

It can last for weeks once opened

There are varying opinions when it comes to the length of time you can store an open bottle of wine, but most experts max it out at one week in the fridge (via Wine Folly). Of course, factors such as the type of wine and whether or not you use a device to pump out the oxygen will influence the duration. Nevertheless, unless you're using pricey equipment like a Coravin, nothing beats boxed wine for freshness over time.

Since oxygen isn't introduced into the bag when you pour a glass, oxidation — the prime culprit of rapidly aging wine — occurs at a much slower pace. To further reduce the rate, make some space in your fridge for the box, whether red, white, or rosé wine. You'll hear recommended durations of up to six weeks when keeping an open box of wine but stick to two to three weeks for the best flavor (via Vinepair). That's still a good chunk of time and allows you to use the wine for cooking, sipping, and entertaining. Boxed wine is a great bet if you are the only wine drinker in your home or love switching between different types of wine.

Choose boxed wine for a crowd

It's evident from the large format that boxed wine packs in a fair bit of wine compared to a bottle. Sizes vary, but the average product is filled with 3 liters of wine. Since a standard wine bottle size is 750 milliliters, you're getting four times the volume. Breaking it down further, you're looking at 20 glasses of wine based on a 5-ounce standard pour (via BinWise). Some companies, like Magnotta Winery in Canada, even make boxes that contain up to 16 liters of wine. No matter the size you purchase, a bag-in-box amounts to a greater quantity of booze.

While it might be a bit cumbersome to store the larger formats in your fridge, boxed wine is a great solution for entertaining at parties and events. Whether your business is hosting a happy hour or your entire wine-loving family is visiting for the holidays, the dimensions are optimal. If you're in charge of supplying the wine, it quickly becomes unwieldy to start carrying all the goods. Not to mention, your recycling bin won't be overflowing with glass empties, just a flattened cardboard box or two and a plastic bag.

It offers great value

It's evident that you're getting more wine with your purchase, but you'll be pleased to know if it comes at a lower cost too. According to Consumer Reports editor Angela Lashbrook, you're looking at an average price drop of 50% compared to bottled wine (via WRAL TV). Sure, there are low-quality wines sold in a box that merit a low price point, but the difference isn't just about the wine. Sommelier Business points out that the packaging used for bag-in-box products is much cheaper than a glass bottle with a cap or cork.

Options from basic table wine to premium pours are being sold in boxes, with various prices to match. Franzia, the most popular boxed wine brand on the market by volume (per AP News), sells a 5-liter box for around $20 from online retailers like Drizly. Meanwhile, reputable producer Tablas Creek in Paso Robles offers a 3-liter box of one of its iconic Rhône style blends for $95. The wine sells for $28 by the bottle, giving consumers a $17 discount for the same wine in a larger format. Whether you're happy with the cheaper stuff or want the quality you're accustomed to from a bottle, boxed wine offers it at a more affordable cost.

It's more environmentally-friendly

Possibly the most significant argument in favor of boxed wine is its reduced environmental footprint. While the average consumer might not think about wine production beyond grapes in a vineyard, countless steps throughout the process have a less-than-stellar ecological impact. However, packaging and transportation stand out on top as the worst offenders.

A 2008 report from The New York Times cited that carbon emissions for a standard 750-milliliter bottle of wine are double that of a 3-liter box of wine. While time may have changed some aspects, certain things about the process remain immutable. In part, there's the fact that when the wine is transported in glass bottles, only half of the weight of the cargo is actually wine, compared with 95% for boxed wine. Furthermore, packaging bottles in a case leads to plenty of wasted space, whereas boxes stack up efficiently. This results in far heavier loads necessary when transporting bottled wine to distributors and consumers, ultimately elevating the ecological toll.

High temperatures and the energy required to produce glass are other significant additions to the carbon footprint of wine packaging. Not to mention, the United Nations recently released a report regarding a global sand shortage, which is one of the precursors to producing glass. Although glass is recyclable, only about a third of it is currently being recycled in the U.S. (via the United States Environmental Protection Agency).

The quality has greatly improved

Boxed wine has certainly garnered a reputation as containing suboptimal booze, but there has been a significant shift in quality in the recent past. And just as you can find bad wine in a box, bottled wine isn't immune to mediocrity. Seeking alternatives to glass bottles is one of the factors motivating producers to package their wine in a box.

While many mid-range options are finding their way into this format, Robb Report highlights Tablas Creek Vineyard's pivotal role in introducing it to the fine wine market. As general manager Jason Haas noted, wineries that are committed to regenerative farming and sustainability in the vineyard and cellar cannot simply abandon these values when it comes to packaging and transportation. Meanwhile, low-intervention growers Les Vignes d'Olivier package some of their wine in pouches, essentially bypassing the box.

Other companies like Juliet, based in Santa Barbara, are eager to rebrand boxed wine, starting with the contents. The winery sources organically certified grapes and follow a low-intervention approach in the cellar to highlight freshness and fruitiness. Perhaps the logo says it all, "Super premium wines that don't come at a premium to our planet." Juliet's packaging is chic and classy, another aspect that could contribute to its rising popularity. As Vinepair reports, making an effort to redesign the branding of boxed wine is an important element in enhancing its desirability.

You'll want to buy it for immediate drinking

Boxed wine certainly has some features that make it feasible to store it for a long time after opening. In this regard, it offers an advantage over bottled stuff. However, don't start looking for aged boxed wine at your local liquor store; it doesn't fare quite so well on the shelf in the long term. According to Wine Spectator, these products are typically stamped with an expiration date of about one year to 18 months post-manufacturing.

Leora Kalikow of Public House Wine explains that consumers don't have to worry about plastic leaching into the wine (via Wine Folly). She notes that polyethylene, a safe and commonly used type of plastic, is primarily used in boxed wine production. It doesn't affect the flavor or quality of the wine, but unfortunately, it is microporous and allows oxygen to slowly seep in over time. You won't get sick, but the wine will begin to oxidize, which is hardly conducive to aging.

While this won't entice anyone storing wine in their cellar to pick up a box of wine, it's worth noting that some figures suggest that around 90% of wine purchased is drunk within 24 hours (via Jancis Robinson). If you're not planning on holding onto a bottle for more than a few weeks or months, bag-in-box is an increasingly interesting option.

There's less of a chance of wine flaws

Unfortunately, for both the winemakers who put in a lot of energy to make wine and consumers who purchase it eager to taste something delightful, a few issues can cause it to go awry. Among the most common wine flaws, cork taint can occur due to problems with sanitation, storage, and packaging. Its source is the presence of a specific chemical in the cork or barrels, causing the wine to display musty aromas (via Wine Enthusiast). Considering that boxed wine uses no cork closure, nor is it generally the type of wine that ages in oak barrels, it tends to have a lower incidence of cork taint.

Another concern mostly mitigated by boxed wine is lightstrike. Glass wine bottles let in varying degrees of light depending on their color. Dark green bottles are the best option, while clear ones are not recommended for wines intended for aging. As SommWine reports, bottles can be affected in wine shops, ultimately resulting in dulled flavors that eventually start to taste of cooked cabbage, wet wool, and even sewage. Thankfully, bag-in-box products are safeguarded against the detrimental effects of light, minimizing the chance of off flavors.

Many bottles of wine actually started in a box

If you turn your nose up at boxed wine but regularly imbibe in bottles from large international producers, you may inadvertently be drinking wine that started off in a box. As Jancis Robinson reports, numerous countries, including Australia, Spain, Italy, and Chile, ship bulk wine in giant vessels. Although they function as a tank rather than a bag in a box, the concept is similar, as the giant flexitank is contained in a frame.

By transporting wine in a large container, issues related to the weight of glass bottles are reduced. When the tanks arrive at their final destination, they are bottled on-site and sent to local distributors to be sold to consumers. This method of bulk shipping occurs for a large proportion of basic table wines, which isn't such a far stretch from boxed wine as we know it. Aside from the ecological advantages, lower cost is a significant driver in the increased export of bulk wine, as Vine and Wine point out. In fact, the outlet notes that more than double the volume of wine can be stored and transported in a container compared with cases of glass bottles.

It's becoming increasingly common

Whether you're into the idea or not, the numbers are clear: Boxed wine sales are on a rise. Wine Business reported on the fact in April 2020, when Covid-19 lockdown measures notably impacted the quantity and format of wine that consumers were buying. Although the circumstances were ideal for an increase in boxed wine sales, CMO of Precept Wine Alex Evans explains that as more people begin to try these products for the first time, they recognize the quality, alleviating some of their perceived distrust (via Market Watch).

One highlight that affects this change is generational differences. Younger consumers are less bothered by the packaging. Of course, customers who prioritize sustainable products are also more inclined to lean toward equally environmentally-friendly packaging. Globe Newswire notes that the bag-in-box market in 2022 was estimated at $4 billion and is predicted to increase to $6.6 billion by 2031. Surely with so much profit on the line, companies will continue to strive for quality and excellence regardless of the packaging format.

There's no beating the portability and convenience factor

Consider the supplies required if you're planning a large dinner party or event. Booze-wise, you're going to want to have enough wine to keep it flowing. However, once you start calculating the necessary amount of bottles for the crowd, you may quickly start to wonder how to transport it all. Cases of wine leave a lot of empty space, making them woefully inefficient for moving wine between venues. Even on a smaller scale, if you're getting wine for a barbecue, you'll soon find yourself with bottles clinking together in your shopping cart as you make your way to the cash register.

Thanks to formats typically between 3 and 5 liters, boxed wine is an optimal way to stock up on wine for a party. You're getting the equivalent of four bottles in the smaller format, and with some motivation and careful stacking, we bet you could carry three to four boxes yourself. Based on the results of the 2015 Gallo Consumer Wine Trends survey, more than a third of respondents referred to boxed wine as convenient, over half were willing to keep it in their fridge as their "go-to" wine, and a quarter recognized its value in situations with a larger number of people.

Some boxes are refillable

The materials used for boxed wine are generally advantageous compared to glass bottles, but the convenient format can even be refilled. Considering the low estimates of recycling rates, being able to reuse a container is especially valuable. As Allison Luvera of Juliet wines tells Vogue, the brand's eco-container can be either recycled or repurposed with a new pouch. The company even offers to recycle the parts for its consumers, using a return shipping label that can be downloaded from the website.

Meanwhile, LEAFtv provides some tips on properly cleaning the pouch inside the cardboard box in case you have the opportunity to refill it. Since each manufacturer has their own process regarding packaging and may not permit refilling, there's no reason why the pouch has to contain wine the second time around. Use it to store water or juice when you go camping, or try a fun experiment by filling it with bottled wine and testing your friends' tastebuds. Use a bottle you know they enjoy and see what they think of it when it's poured from a spigot.